France, Rwanda aim to put bitter row over genocide behind them

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 12, 2011 5:19 PM
France, Rwanda aim to put bitter row over genocide behind them

By John Irish and Yann Le Guernigou

PARIS (Reuters) - France and Rwanda looked to turn over a new leaf in relations on Monday after years of tension over Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

On the first state visit by a Rwandan head of state since the genocide, President Paul Kagame emphasized his visit was aimed at building economic and commercial ties.

"By coming here, we are looking toward the future instead of the past," he told reporters after a working lunch with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Rwanda has accused the French army of contributing to the massacre of 800,000 mainly ethnic Tutsis by the then Hutu regime and its supporters.

Diplomatic ties were broken off in 2006 after a French judge accused Kagame, then leading a Tutsi rebel group, of involvement in the shooting down of former President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane in April 1994 - the catalyst for the genocide.

Both sides have denied the charges.

France began to normalize its relations with Rwanda after Sarkozy came to power in 2007. In February 2010 the French president on a trip to Kigali said Paris had made serious errors of judgment over the massacre and wanted to ensure all those responsible for the slaughter were caught and punished.

However, he stopped short of an official apology for his country's role.

Kagame appeared on Monday to accept that an apology was no longer a prerequisite for restoring diplomatic ties.

"If it was about waiting for this (apology) to happen, maybe all this (rapprochement) would have not taken place," Kagame said in an interview with France 24 television. "I'm not saying we don't want it (apology), but I don't think it should limit our discussions."

He added he was encouraged by French efforts to prosecute people who allegedly committed acts of genocide.

STATES NOT INDIVIDUALS

Despite the apparent olive branch offered by Kagame, some French political and military officials continue to be critical of the Rwandan government over its allegations against the French military.

The presidents of both houses of parliament refused to meet Kagame and French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, who was in the same post in 1994, has said he would never shake Kagame's hand. Juppe was in Australia during the Rwandan visit.

"The absence of Juppe is not important to this visit," said Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo. "From our side this is a rapprochement between states and not individuals," she said. "Today we need each other. It is better for us to have communications and figure out some of the issues linked to the 1994 genocide."

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)